There are a few things that you should know before applying reverb to freshly recorded vocals. And among those things is the understanding of how much reverb you need exactly. If you make your vocal too dry, it might just not have enough volume and weight. But if you’d make your vocal too wet, it can easily get lost in the mix. So in this article, we will tell you about the best reverb settings for vocals.
Before you apply the reverb
In audio production, almost everything depends on the source material, so it wouldn’t be wise to expect good results after you put reverb or any effect, for that matter, on poorly recorded vocals. One of the most common beginner music production mistakes is to ignore the importance of the source and try to fix unfixable with various effects treatment. So before you even think of using any effects whatsoever, you have to make sure that you are using the right equipment or at least the one suitable for the job. After you figure this out, you, as an audio producer, also need to make sure that vocal performance is also up to the standard, but we will get to this one later.
Choosing the right mic
Although an audio interface matters a lot, there’s one piece of equipment that supersedes its importance by a margin. It wouldn’t really matter how good your audio interface is if you don’t have a decent microphone to connect to it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t tell you what exact mic to choose since we have absolutely no idea what you’re aiming for when it comes to your own production.
Obviously, some mics would suit you way better than the others, but sometimes you have to figure out which one all by yourself. The good news is that there are plenty of very capable microphones to choose from, starting with modern workhorses to warm and vintage legends and anything in between. And remember that it’s always a good idea to have at least a few microphones for different occasions.
Even the most stellar equipment couldn’t fix a mediocre vocal performance, so as audio producers, we have to make sure that the vocalist gives their best. The problems usually occur not from the vocalist’s actual ability to sing but could be related to improper timing and pitch imperfections. Most of the time, those things could be easily fixed with some editing and tuning plugins, but still, it’s best to make a few extra takes in order to achieve a perfect and more natural-sounding performance. But it is also important to remember not to overwork the vocalist too hard, so instead, you can always listen through all of the takes and combine a few good ones together.
EQ and compression
After you made sure that you have the best performance you can possibly get, you may apply some treatment to your vocals. Usually, it’s better to do this before you apply the reverb since it can distract you by masking some issues. It’s hard to imagine a situation when a vocal track wouldn’t benefit from some EQ and compression. Even if at first glance, your vocals seem perfect, try to add a low-cut filter, roll off some mids, and be amazed at how much better it sounds.
When it comes to compression, combine a long release with a moderately slow attack and see how detailed it started to sound compared to the original uncompressed track. You may even consider adding something like de-esser to make sure that it sounds as polished as possible before you send your vocal track through the reverb of your choosing.
Best reverb setting for vocals
Reverb, as we know, is short for reverberation, which is a natural process of sound reflecting and bouncing back of various solid surfaces. In order to achieve a natural reverb, you’ll need a close environment with reflective surfaces considering that different materials will give the reverberation different timber. And this matters because most of the time, you want your vocal to sound as natural as possible. If you have a specially treated tone room in your studio, the best way to achieve natural reverb is to put another microphone on the other side of the room while recording vocal performances. But the more convenient and less labor costly way to do this is to use a digital reverb plugin instead.
The right type of reverb
Before you start to dial some settings in, you have to make sure that you’re using the type of reverb that is suitable for your project. Of course, you can always rely on your artistic vision, but most of the time, using a modern reverb with evolving modulation on vocals isn’t such a good idea. Or using very wet hall reverb on the project that requires more intimate and chamber sound. Most professional audio engineers prefer to use plate reverbs or some sort of room reverb, but in some rare cases, spring reverb also could be useful, although, for more niche types of projects. The important thing to know that without regard to which type of reverb you would end up choosing, it always has to be used with moderation.
Decay and pre-delay
Some reverbs have a very sophisticated and extended number of settings that you could tweak, but others have just a few knobs. Some features such as stereo width controls or a built-in EQ are completely optional, but others are pretty much universal. Most reverbs you can get your hands on will have decay and pre-delay settings, amongst other things. Those two settings might not be the most important ones, but nevertheless, they can let you change the sound of your reverb drastically. Decay controls for how long the reverberated sound will sustain. If you’re going for a very prolonged and lush sound, use longer decay, if you want shorter and slappier sound, use shorter decay.
Pre-delay basically controls when your reverb starts to work, a longer pre-delay will give you a very spacey and echoey sound. A very short or rather turned off pre-delay will give you a more natural and convincing reverb. Using just those two settings will give you a lot of creative control over the effect, but you have to figure out for yourself what works best for your particular project.
When using a reverb, your natural reflex would be just to put it on the track itself, but there’s another way to do it. You can always put a reverb on a separate track and send the vocal signal to it in parallel. This wouldn’t give you much benefit if you’re using only one effect on a single track, but if you’re going to use the same reverb on multiple instruments, this could ease the stress on your computing power and furthermore give you more flexible control over the sound. That is, of course, if the same settings are applied across all of the tracks.
Almost all of the reverbs you can encounter will have dry/wet controls, which will let you blend the original signal with the reverberated one. By far, this is one of the most important settings when it comes to reverb plugins since it lets you dial in the precise amount of reverb while preserving the details of the original signal. You have to remember that the reverb has to be 100% wet if you’re using it in parallel, otherwise, it’s not a very good idea to turn it all the way up on vocals. In order to achieve a naturally sounding reverb, you may try to dial it back to 0 and then slowly increase it until it sounds just about right.
Other useful tips
Nobody said that you have to use only one reverb, in fact, most professional audio engineers use at least two reverbs. Usually, there’s one with shorter reflections and one with longer ones. Combining those two with the right amount of blending will give you a very lush and spacey sound without drowning in reverb. Also, you can always consider EQing your reverb if you use it in parallel. Adding simple high-pass and low-pass filters on 600 Hz and 5 kHz, respectively, can give you a very spacious reverb without affecting the details of the performance.
Before choosing the best reverb settings for vocals, you should consider checking if you’re completely happy with your equipment and vocal performance is up to the challenge. After you’ve edited the part and applied some EQ and compression, you may choose to use the reverb in parallel or on the track itself. If you choose the latter, be very careful with dialing in the dry/wet knob. Or put it all the way to wet if you’ve chosen the parallel mode. Experiment with pre-delay and decay until you’re happy with the sound since those two settings can change it drastically.